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Legal Batter's Box

by Dave
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A reader recently wrote in with a complaint.   The issue involved a team of travel players beating up on his rec team.   The travel girls stood at the plate, 3 feet in front of the dish, and hit with their high performance composite bats just 35 feet, after taking a stride, from the pitcher's plate.   His concern was the safety of his players.   He noted that his purposes in coaching recreational ball are to emphasize team work, skill fundamentals, and general enjoyment of the game.   He expressed disdain for travel players beating up rec players for the purpose of "practice" and general dislike for the aggressive tactics employed by the travel girls against his recreational team.   The girls themselves, not any coach, argued with the umpire over the dimensions of the batter's box and cajoled him into allowing their stances out to three feet in front of the plate.   He believed they should be called out due to hitting outside the box.

There are two reasons I am posting this issue to the blog.   First of all, I don't really have much patience for travel players infilitrating a rec league.   But the reality is many do because they want to participate in the all-star program in Little League, Babe Ruth or some such.   And many leagues encourage or tolerate travel players in their rec leagues because they want them on the all-star team, because they will be playing with some of the rec-only kids on the high school team, and for other reasons.   Both arguments (for and against travel players in a rec league) have merit.   And the reality is that when we see our local rec all-star teams reach far into national playoffs, we often know the girls on the team from travel circles.   There's no getting around travel players in rec leagues unless the league decides this is what they want to do.

Secondly, the batter's box rules issue is an interesting one.   We seldom see a box drawn to regulation whether the competition is rec league, travel tournament, or high school.   Very often some guy who is completely clueless, like me, gets a liner and proceeds to guestimate the approximate boundaries.   I know I have drawn some pretty bad batter's boxes in my time. &n bsp; Even when a template is available, most boxes are drawn wrong.

Without going into chapter and verse, a softball batter's box is supposed to extend four feet from a line drawn through the center of a 17 inch homeplate.   That means, the front of the batter's box should extend slightly more than 3 feet in front of the front edge of the dish.   In other words, these travel players in the rec league were standing legally within the dimensions of the batter's box as expressed in the rulebook, at least before contacting the ball.

There have been many times I have seen discussion at homeplate about the box.   Most often, a coach complains because they believe somebody was or was not outside the box when contact with the ball was made.   Sometimes the issue is a batter being struck by a hit ball in front of the box.   These discussions are often protracted and very often do not result in any change to the original ruling.   Umpires very often know the dimensions of the box and that the one drawn in front of them is incorrect.   Most rule on the actual batter's box as opposed to the drawn one.   I have seen umps go so far as to first explain the issue to a coach and then step off the actual dimensions with their feet.   Most of the time, the coach leaves the discussion with a perplexed look, as if to say, "I didn't know that."   I dare say, most folks, be they players, coaches or fans, have never looked inside a rulebook to see the dimensions of the batter's box.

To go a step further, batters are required to stand with both feet inside the box before the pitch is thrown.   Also, they cannot make contact with the ball while one whole foot is completely outside the box.   So, perhaps the coach who wrote to me has a valid argument.   He seemed to be saying that the travel girls made contact when one of their feet was about 2 feet outside the batter's box.   That's not legal and it should be called.

Just to wrap up this brief discussion of an important rule point, the softball batter's box does indeed extend slightly more than 3 feet beyond the plate.   The typical drawn box is usually wrong.   Umpires enforce the rules, not the whims of the field crew.   They usually apply the rule on the batter's box the same way they usually apply the rule on the pitcher's circle regardless of how the thing is drawn.   Batter's must have both feet inside the batter's box before the pitch and cannot have one foot completelyu outside of it at the time they make contact with the ball.

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